Whistling in the dark
Minor MusingsVirtually every human being has some degree of discomfort with darkness. It's not just that we don't see well in the dark; it goes deeper than that. No one has to teach us to fear the dark, we just do, naturally, automatically, universally.
Published: April 18, 2010
Published: April 18, 2010
So what is it about darkness that strikes fear in our hearts? And how do we learn to rise above it, to, as the songwriter put it, whistle in the dark?
When I was a kid I remember being afraid of the dark in my bedroom at night. As I saw it, there were three dangers:
1) I was convinced there was something menacing in my closet that would emerge when the lights went out.
2) I remember being afraid to swing my feet over the edge of the bed for fear there was something under the bed that would reach out and grab me by the ankles.
3) I was also afraid to go to sleep with my back to the door. I was sure someone or something evil would creep into my room and attack or kidnap me.
I also remember a recurring dream from childhood. It was not an actual scenario; I just recall feeling a sinister presence - something huge that would grow to fill the room, like expanding foam, till it squashed and suffocated me. I remember waking up terrified and unable to go back to sleep.
Most children have similar fears associated with darkness. But why? Do they somehow learn it from us, or is it just innate in the human psyche?
Since this experience seems so universal, I believe the latter is more accurate. I think it is an extension of our natural fear of the unknown. In children it's the same basic fear that produces separation anxiety - a terror at the thought of being left at the mercy of something we can't handle. And that something seems a thousand times worse in the dark when we can't see it, or know when we might be blindsided by it.
Most of us, as we mature, learn to cope with our basic fear of the dark. As adults we know there's no boogeyman in the closet or under the bed. Still we feel trepidation in unfamiliar dark places, particularly when we're alone. After all, we know there are very real dangers out there like muggers and rapists. We cope by learning to take precautions, then forge ahead come what may - whistling in the dark.
We never totally conquer our fear of the dark, and that's a good thing. A healthy fear is what keeps us alert and cautious, and none of us knows how many times caution may have saved our lives. In fact, it's something we need to pass on to our kids, that cautious vigilance. But how do we do that without turning them into quivering weenies afraid of their own shadows?
First, we remember that kids imitate the behavior they see in their parents, teachers, coaches and scout masters. If we model a healthy respect for the dark and the unknown, without giving in to irrational fears, chances are they will do likewise.
The same is true of our attitudes toward the future. Experts in science and economics tell us that our children are likely to be the first generation of Americans who will not be better off than their parents were. They're likely to be less wealthy because of our burgeoning national debt and less healthy because they've learned to overindulge in over-processed, high-calorie foods.
However, we adults still have it in our power to change that dark future and to prepare our young people to face it with strength and optimism.
So, role models ... Start whistling!